Dillard seeks RTA chairman’s job, but Rauner may knock effort off track

Written By By Mark Brown Posted: 07/18/2014, 12:29am

State Sen. Kirk Dillard, two-time runner-up for the Republican nomination for governor, has been openly campaigning to be the next chairman of the Regional Transportation Authority.

The problem for Dillard is that the guy who just beat him, Bruce Rauner, would apparently prefer somebody else for the job, maybe anybody else.

Rauner isn’t being quite so overt as Dillard about publicly stating his desires, but everyone else involved in the selection battle says the GOP nominee is working behind the scenes to thwart his former foe’s ambition.

Everyone, that is, except Dillard, who says he’s not sure if it’s Rauner personally or Rauner’s staff trying to undercut him, which I suppose is his way of hoping this can still be resolved to both their satisfaction.

“I’m not sure it’s me. It may just be the job,” Dillard told me Monday.

He said he’s been trying to get a meeting with Rauner to clarify where he stands. He’s been trying for a while.

“You’d think they’d want my help in the gubernatorial race, wouldn’t you? You’d think they’d want me on the team,” said Dillard, allowing some of his frustration to show.

“I’m not a rival of Bruce Rauner,” he emphasized, adding that he has already offered to help the Rauner campaign “where it’s appropriate.”

That may be, but they apparently haven’t emerged from the campaign on very good terms either.

Until last week, every indication was that Rauner was supporting former DuPage County Board Chairman Bob Schillerstrom for the post, but in recent days, another RTA board member, Dwight “Ike” Magalis of Lake County, has emerged as a possible contender.

I received conflicting reports Monday about whether Schillerstrom was still in the running, and he didn’t return my calls. Neither did Magalis.

The job is currently held by John Gates Jr., who is stepping down effective July 1 after four years as chairman.

What makes this election a little different is that there are only 15 voters, the members of the RTA board. It takes the agreement of 11 of them to pick a new chairman, including two from the city, two from suburban Cook and two from the collar counties.

That requires the chairman to be a true consensus candidate, with support across party lines and regional considerations, although the board is majority Republican.

While a governor has no formal say in picking a chairman, I’m sure many have influenced the selection.

As the GOP standard bearer in the fall, Rauner certainly is within his rights to make his opinions known to his fellow Republicans.

The same for the mayor of Chicago, which is why Magalis, a vocal CTA critic, would appear to be a long shot.

Dillard said Gates, knowing his long-held interest in transit issues, first approached him about taking the part-time post.

Dillard, who will retire from the Senate when his term ends in January, said he thought it would be a good fit with his record of working across party lines in Springfield.

“You’ve got to find somebody who is palatable politically to a whole lot of different people,” he said.

He is openly supported by DuPage County Board Chairman Dan Cronin, Schillerstrom’s successor. Cronin has been active in organizing collar county officials to influence the shape of any transit reform legislation.

The RTA position pays only $25,000 a year, but it would allow Dillard, a lawyer in private practice, to keep his hand in the political game, which could benefit him on several levels.

Dillard said he has been actively pursuing the job, first by contacting the county officials who appoint the RTA board members and then the board members themselves.

You have to wonder if his mistake, in Rauner’s view, was failing to first seek his blessing.

What’s interesting to me is how Rauner doesn’t seem to be interested in making nice with Dillard, who did not attend a GOP unity event the day after the election but made it to one the following weekend.

This may offer a tiny insight into what kind of governor Rauner would be.

Email: markbrown@suntimes.com

Twitter: @MarkBrownCST

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